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Oct 07, 2019 10:37 AM EDT

Virtual Reality may be the Most Effective Next Generation Learning Platform for Health Professionals

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Virtual Reality

(Photo : JESHOOTS-com)

Virtual reality has made it possible for people to enjoy online gaming in a whole new level. But a study shows that the same kind of virtual world may be used as a learning platform among health professionals to further enhance their learning. Knowledge of other health professionals particularly in successfully implementing collaborative care for patients is what this pilot study is about. Researchers from Tufts University School of Medicine recently published their initial findings on the topic in the Journal of Interprofessional Care. 

Interprofessional Education (IPE)  is aimed at fostering collaboration and learning among healthcare students from a variety of professions with the goal of enhancing patient care. Making their schedules meet, on the other hand, has always been a barrier to this type of collaborative learning. The study looks into the use of virtual reality as a form of IPE, which is already interdisciplinary by nature. 

"IPE has already provided students with valuable learning experience and team-based palliative care has shown significant impact in lowering health care costs without sacrificing patient care and quality of life," said Amy Lee, first author of the study and an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine.

The researchers believe that interdisciplinary learning is crucial is shaping the training of a health professional. The challenge has always been about how they could physically meet and actually do work together. Communication in real time is an essential component that virtual reality provides.

Through Second Life, the researchers designed an IPE system about palliative health care experience. Thirty -five (35) health care students enrolled in a two-hour online session in groups of three to six students from multiple geographic locations and different professions, including those in the fields of medicine, social work, and nutrition. 

The participants were grouped together in teams coordinated over audio and group text messaging. This allowed the teams to work together to provide excellent health care support. A series of pre- and post- session surveys were conducted to assess the effectivity of the virtual reality platform in fostering collaborative palliative care learning between participants. Students were also asked to submit written reflections describing their experience.

Comfortable and convenient – that was how students described the virtual reality approach. They also expressed their appreciation of the virtual experience in assessing patient symptoms, which then translated to having an increased sense of empathy as seen in their post-session surveys. They particularly liked that the experience made them practice anonymously without worrying about making mistakes in the learning process. Some of the participants have even expressed their interest in palliative care and their desire to continue IPE training -- both in virtual and in real life. 

A multidisciplinary team-based medical health care is what palliative care is all about. A patient needs a team of healthcare professionals that will provide them with medical, logistical, and emotional support. The study emphasizes the role of collaborative learning in emphasizing the important role each one plays in providing the patient with utmost care

The team, however, also recognized that the participating group may be too small to be a strong indicator. The volunteer nature of the study may also have affected the desire of the students to participate, which may have also ignited their interest in education through virtual reality.

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